Sunday, January 25, 2015

Grub kind of rhymes with Ugh

I grunted.

Couldn't help it. Honestly. 

There we were, waiting in line at a sandwich shop for an out-of-the-ordinary, mid-week lunch date with my girl.

Clearly, I wasn't myself.

She eyed me suspiciously.

“Why are you ordering salad?”

“Because I want it,” I lied.

She wasn't buying it. Especially after I asked for a few lemon wedges instead of ranch dressing.

“It's because dad's all gung-ho on his resolution to lose weight, isn't it?”

“No!” I drawl, sounding like a petulant child. “It has nothing to do with him.”

She just leaned back and grinned.

“Just because he's tightened up one belt loop doesn't mean … Oh, never mind.”

Stupid, smart kids. Of course, I'm jealous.

The man stops eating one bowl of ice cream per night and jogs around the bedroom while he watches a half-hour of Netflix, and he loses 10 pounds in a week. I run 15 miles a week for a year and gain three pounds.

Maybe that's why I've gotten a notion in my mind that the weight he loses will somehow find its way to me … as if fat were an element on the periodic table that can't be decomposed by either physical or chemical means.

It's just floating in the house somewhere, waiting for me to let down my guard. And when I do, all havoc will break loose … Ketchup won't be a vegetable, and broken cookies will pack twice the caloric punch, not the half I'd always been calculating, on account of the missing crumbs.

See, this is what dieting does to me.

Shhhhh. I know that's crazy talk. You don't have to rub it in.

And I know … I don't like that D word, either.

Diets. They never work. Especially not when the word is defined as a "plan of caloric intake reduction so as to achieve a desired number on a scale," which is significantly lower than the number currently mocking you whenever you step on the infernal device.

For as long as I can remember, I've used the term as a way to express the dietary habits of a particular species. For instance, in my case – a middle-aged suburban homo sapiens – a typical diet consists of bread, cheese, sugary things and liberal amounts of a certain caffeinated beverage. This diet is randomly supplemented with heartily-consumed salads containing at least a week's worth of calories in the dressings alone, but we only record the first part of the latter.

Oh right ... it also consists of eating popcorn for dinner when I'm the only one home.

But now that my husband has embraced this plan of eating like a Neanderthal … You know ... the species of creature that safely grazes along the outer ring of the supermarket, where its food is free-range and organically grown. It NEVER wanders into the center aisles where the Oreos and Fruit Loops live. Those things will KILL you.

Makes sense, right? Well, it made sense on December 31st when we were all too veshnookered to think straight. But the next day, I sobered up enough to rationalize a life without cheese, wine or espresso chip ice cream might not be worth living.

Of course, all that was before the big, protruding-forehead guy who lives in our house lost a pant size.

So help me, if I end up finding his pant size taking up residence in my closet, my new diet will include twigs and nuts and berries and organically-raised beef sliders with capers and caramelized onion between two slices of roasted sweet potato, too.

You know … just like the cavemen.

Sunday, January 18, 2015



Bat, bat, bat. Purrrrrrrrrr.

It starts with soft paws at first, then a sandpapery tongue.

Can you feel it? A warm, fluffy kitten sitting on top of your chest as the soft light of a cold January morning filters in through the curtains?

Yeah … Neither can I.

Honestly, I WISH a warm circle of fur purring under my chin was my new wake up call.

It's still dark when that alarm sounds.

First there's a truncated bark. Just a yip, really, and then a thud followed by the skittering of many claws. More barking. More skittering. And an avalanche of quadrupeds tumbles downstairs into separate corners.

I am not fully awake – haven't even opened my eyes – but I can guess what's been happening in the dark. “Old Cat” has had enough of "New Cat's" antics, and "Deputy Dawg" – the self-appointed sheriff for these here parts – is laying down the law.

I reach for my phone. It's 4 a.m. There's no hitting snooze on this skirmish, either. There is no way the volleys would be evenly spaced nine minutes apart. Once waged, this war will last until kibble is spilled.


Daggers of cold stab at my knees when my heels touch the floor.


Of course, this isn't an alarm. It's become routine, like a possessed cuckoo clock bestowed by a doddery old aunt. A new surprise is waiting every hour on the hour, beginning four minutes after my head hits the pillow, which is a full seven minutes after my husband has entered REM sleep.

First it's the barking. A yip you ignore, hoping the dog will settle and go to sleep.

“What does she want?” my husband will ask me accusingly. As if I understand Dog but refuse to speak it, thereby making him an unwilling emissary to the animal kingdom.

“The dog wants to go out.”

What? Of course I speak dog.

So, down the stairs I go ... dink, dink, dinkdinkdink … and let the dog out.

Ten minutes later … Back up the stairs …. dink, dink, dinkdinkdink. Back into bed.

I am wide awake. The dog gets a slobbery drink and circles from one room to another, deciding where she will hunker down for the first watch. This means I have to distract her until the children fall off to sleep. I will have to stay awake.

The girl has already closed her door to the pitter-patter of furry feet.

Oh, it was cute at first … The way the New Cat wanted to snuggle up and sleep among the toys. Until she displaced Old Cat and found that stuffing was delightful to pluck out of plush victims.

And can you guess where the dog wants to be? … Of course, you can.

“But Mom! … I can't sleep when they are in my room. The dog lays on my feet, and the kitten tries to eat my hair. It's TORTURE!”

The boy doesn't want them either. “The kitten jumps onto my curtains and the dog chews up my dinosaurs.”

So I wait and try to appease the quadrupeds until sleep comes for the children, and I can open their bedroom doors a smidge.

I don't feel bad about my deception. They sleep like the dead, but I sleep like the undead.   

Sunday, January 11, 2015


Most mornings, I wake up to the sounds of breakfast already in progress: Pans shifting on the stove, cereal tumbling into hard plastic bowls, the last surge of water coming through the fancy coffee machine.

My husband wakes early, gets a fire going and stands in front of the stove rubbing his hands together as if a genie will magically appear and fork over a steaming plate of eggs Benedict.

“Morning ...” I'll say as I brush past him and reach for a mug from our precarious pile.

I won't commit to a “Good morning” just yet.

The kids crunch away at the cereal as their Christmas-delivered devices bleep frantically in a last-moment frenzy of activity before they must be set aside for the duration of another school day.

Aside from the sing-song voice on the television (which is on), no one has said another word.

My husband and I don't talk to each other anymore, either.

That's not true, really. But that's how it seems anyway, especially first thing in the morning.

He just hands me his phone -- usually with a shrug or an "I-don't-know-why-I-read-the-news" disclaimer -- and I come face to face with what's bothering him.

Last week it was ...

"Two-year-old shoots his mother with her own gun at Idaho Wal-Mart."

This week …

"Shooting at Paris satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, kills 12.”

“Have you see this?” he'll ask.

It doesn't matter what the headline reads, it feels as if the experience of it all has become unspeakable.

“No, I hadn't,” I say as I reach for the coffee.

Accident? Crime? Shooting? Death.

There's never a shortage.

Every day brings something we'd rather not see. Rather not know. Every day we are reminded of all that seems senseless, and virally so.

Neither of us wants to argue any of our usual points. We don't want to place blame or try to put it into context.

I skip over the comment sections more and more.

It's not about being right or wrong, I tell myself. It's about being neither without compassion.

Honestly, I don't know what to say.

This month we had two phone calls from school about worrisome incidents. Two 22 caliber bullets were found (a week apart) on my second-grader's school bus.

Questions were asked of the children:

“Did you see anything?”

“Do your parents hunt?”

Students were searched, asked to empty pockets. Lockers and book bags, as well.

Nothing was found.

The investigation will continue, claimed a sheet of paper sent home in a backpack.

We should feel better about that, I suppose. No other bullets. No gun. No apparent threat.

… But we don't feel better.

So much of this life boils down to some form of luck, good, bad or indifferent.

We don't speak about that, much, either. There's always someone waiting out in the world – maybe at the mechanic … or in the grocery store … or on the next treadmill at the gym – who will know exactly what's wrong in the world.

At one time or another, that person will be one of us, too.

What else can we do but keep on moving forward … and keep on hoping for the best?

Maybe tomorrow I'll wake up early and make eggs Benedict.  

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Great expectations

I knew exactly what to expect.

We'd walk into a den of iniquity laid out like a user-friendly kitchen of the most thoughtfully designed suburban home. Every member of the family would be hustling about, pulling together the eight thousand loose strands that would tie the whole evening together.

Tension would be high. And not just because we would be among captains of industry and the intellectual elite within our clan, but also because we would have to wrangle kids whose beeping, whirring, running at top speeds and disappearing acts always keep their parents perched on the edge of a sharp blade.

We'd stand there for a moment wondering if we should remove our shoes. The dog would make the first move, scampering around with a smile drawing up her long face, suddenly remembering that she'd been here before. The resident dog would oblige.

There would be peace among dogs, at least.

You did mention we were bringing the dog, right?”

Drinks would be offered immediately and dinner, hints of which we could already smell on the air, would be homemade and plentiful. And, no doubt, detested by my youngest child, whom I can only hope will be quiet about his preferences.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We are early, and the meal is at least six hours away.

First, of course, we'd be shown to our rooms. The beds would be comfortable but foreign. No doubt we'd toss and turn, fretting about all the things people fret about when they are out of their element.

Will the kids ever go to sleep? Will the dog bark and wake everyone up?

Back downstairs in the kitchen, the nerve center, my daughter is dancing around with her new device. She is video conferencing with a friend, showing a virtual stranger all the miraculous features of this elegant home … like its pantry and the double oven.

“It's amazing!!! You can roast beef AND bake cakes at the same time!” she gushes.

She introduces her aunt … and her cousins. … and then we all take turns saying hello.

“Kids!” We say sheepishly. And we pray she'll grow tired of her new pocket-sized world before it's time for dinner.

Who am I to complain? It's not like I haven't checked my emails six million times since I got here … and all I ever get is junk mail.

Soon, I find myself planted in front of the kitchen sink … using hand soap to wash the pots and pans because it makes me feel useful ... and I don't know that dish soap has a dedicated pump built right into the sink.

The hot water is comforting as is scraping the remains of a rich stew off the enamel bakeware. I am happy in my work.

My husband helps with the cooking, which I only resent a little. He is more skilled in that department, and as a more skilled department is more highly regarded. I have never claimed to be more than an assembler of parts. If you need someone to dish out pickles, I am your man.

The conversation never lags.

It meanders smoothly around the matters of the kitchen – the braising and the baking, the bechamel, and horseradish sauce. “How much fat goes into Brussels sprouts? Holy Moly! No wonder why the kids love them.”

From time to time, we see hard looks and hear the flat voices … yet these moments of tension all seem to pass without hard feeling. … melting right into the simmering froth, never coming to a boil. Even the taboo topics of politics and religion are touched upon gingerly enough to be acceptable.

We retire to the living room for a game we've never heard of – a version of Botticelli – all you need is a dictionary, some paper and pens and a fertile imagination.

For more than an hour we take turns choosing impossible words and making up our own cockamamie definitions. There is laughter, sometimes to the point of tears.

No one checked their phones.

Not that it really mattered.

Eventually, we all made our way toward some semblance of sleep. And we all awoke to each other, and the same laughter from the night before.

Soon it would be quiet again. And the traffic sounds would mingle with the pings and beeps of the machines that keep most travelers hushed and complacent.

I would be sad the visit was over.

Of course, I expected that, too.